Now in its 14th year, the annual Bike to Work and School Week celebration in Kelowna saw more people than ever taking part in the province-wide initiative both on bikes and with businesses supporting the annual celebration.
By the end of the day Friday, it’s expected that more than 3,500 Kelowna residents will have checked in to one of the many celebration stations along their bicycle commute to either work or school this week, surpassing last year’s total of 2,700 visits.
“Attendance has been through the roof this year,” said Mike Kittmer, City of Kelowna active transportation coordinator. “Cycling continues to get more and more popular every year. When we started this we were in a mode to introduce active commuter culture to people. But now people are aware of it, they just need a reason to give it a try in an environment where they are supported and encouraged.”
Bike to Work and School stations were set up this week all around Kelowna as well as in Lake Country and Peachland as bikers could stop off and enjoy breakfast, get information about cycling and even have their bike tuned up. Stations were open from 6:30 to 8:45 a.m. and then again from 4 to 6:30 p.m. with a wrap up station taking place Friday afternoon in downtown Kelowna near the Tree Brewing Institute.
Among the trends of people checking in at the stations was a high percentage of first-time riders with over 400 riders describing themselves as new. As well there were more women taking part than men for the second year in a row, with 53 per cent of riders being female.
With the initiative now 14 years old, Kittmer says Bike to Work and School Week is much more established province-wide and in Kelowna more businesses continue to join the movement.
“Back when this started we didn’t have the provincial coordination so there wasn’t as much of a buzz about it,” he said. “The other thing that has grown is the level of support from the business community. We rely on our partners to support and they have come on board more and more and really helped us to make this event bigger and allowed us to have all of these stations.”
The growth in Bike to Work and School Week has coincided with the expansion of bike lanes in Kelowna as outlined under the city’s 20-year transportation master plan for pedestrians and bikes. But while there are more bike lanes available, not everyone is happy with the way things have developed.
“We do have more separated bike lanes than we did in the past, for which I am grateful, but the on-street lanes are actually just the shoulder of the road with a painted image of a bicycle,” wrote Neil Cadger of Kelowna in a letter to the editor (page A8), who said the city is more focussed on building roads than bike lanes. “Let’s get serious about changing the way we move around this city and stop expanding roads, destroying fertile land with asphalt.”
However Kittmer says the city is continually investing in active transportation and has made bike lanes safer with things like bollards to separate bike lanes from vehicles in high traffic areas. He says in the future there are plans for a separate bike network to push bikers to roads that have less traffic and says 2016 was the first year the city’s investment in active transportation actually surpassed that of road construction.
“We’re quickly becoming known as a town that is into cycling and has that culture,” said Kittmer. “We have a long way to go, like every North American community does, but you have to keep up the effort. There is always the allure of the car but I think as we move forward, bikers are no longer considered a fringe group that goes out and fends for themselves in traffic. It seems to be a viable option and the more people that are doing it, the more others are going to try it.”
Originally introduced in response to concerns by parents and school administrators regarding the need for introductory cycling education, bike rodeos have become an integral part of the lead up to Bike and Walk to School Week.
The regional smartTRIPS program and School District 23 host bike rodeos at local schools—typically 12 per year—with the goal of equipping youth with skills and knowledge needed to begin their life on two wheels. Youth learn basic rules of the road, hand signals, obstacle avoidance and scanning techniques all on a fun course. Each child is provided with an information sheet to take home to share with their families. Rodeos are intended only as an introduction to the skills and knowledge needed to be a confident, safe cyclist. Students in grades two through to five participate on bike or by walking the course. Grade six students serve as leaders, assisting the younger students throughout the course and providing encouragement. Schools are contacted in the late winter about the program, that runs in late spring in the weeks leading up to Bike and Walk to School Week.
“Thank you for the amazing Bike Rodeo day at GPE. We are so fortunate to have you working with our schools. I so appreciate all you have done for us. The children and parents had a wonderful day,” said Michelle Kaupp, vice-principal at George Pringle Elementary
This year 13 Central Okanagan schools received bicycle rodeos with two community rodeos also being organized. In total, 2,143 youth took part and learned new cycling skills.
A community wide rodeo will be hosted by Interior Health and Brain Trust Canada at City Park in downtown Kelowna on Saturday, June 4 from 10 a.m to 1 p.m. and it’s free to attend.